General Law of Capitalist Accumularion

James Devine JDevine at lmumail.lmu.edu
Mon Jul 10 10:36:49 MDT 1995


On Marx's General Law of Capitalist Accumulation: I think that
for Marx this is what economists call a "ceteris paribus"
(ignoring other changes) statement. That is: the dynamics of
capitalism tend to increase the reserve army of labor, drive down
wages (relative to productivity), and impoverish the working
class _ignoring other changes_.

What are the "other changes" that are ignored? Michael A.
Lebowitz, in his BEYOND CAPITAL (St. Martin's Press, 1992) in my
opinion argues that what's being held constant is working-class
self-activity (struggle) and the rise of working-class needs
created by capitalism's development. The rise of needs does not
contradict Marx's "law": in fact, it can mean that rising wages
can co-exist with immiseration if needs increase faster than
wages do.  More important is the fact that Marx abstracts from
the "political economy of wage labor" in order to focus on the
"political economy of capital" in his book CAPITAL.  The
capitalists tend to immiserate workers, but workers can resist
this tendency and in fact beat it, if conditions are right.

During the period of approximately 1950 to 1970, in the US,
conditions were right for workers to beat the immiseration
tendency, at least for white male workers.  The same can be said
for the periods of labor-union and social-democratic ascendency
in W. Europe. With the fading of the working-class movements
(largely due, of course, to capital's attempts to undermine
them), Marx's "law" has kicked in again.

In my view, Marx's "law" tells us what will happen if workers
don't organize to resist & try to get something better.

BTW, I think Lebowitz's book is one of the best books on Marxism
in the last 20 years. It brings together a lot of criticisms of
Marxism into a coherent Marxist and dialectical framework,
without getting caught in anti-Marxist "radical democracy" and
the like.

That said, I'm sorry to withdraw from this discussion list. I
have to cut back on my e-mail participation. It's beginning to
hurt my work.

for socialism from below,

Jim Devine      jdevine at lmumail.lmu.edu
Los Angeles, CA (the city of the future)



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